Honor the Individual for the Good of the Group

June 18, 2009

One thing that creates friction in medical practices is the success and subsequent recognition of one of its members.

One thing that creates friction in medical practices is the success and subsequent recognition of one of its members. Unless handled gracefully by the recipient (as well as her peers), such accolades can be a divisive force, threatening the synergy that I believe is the cornerstone of most successful practices.

How can divisiveness be prevented? Teamwork, shared credit, unselfishness, and a good gestalt are good starts:

Teamwork. Lou Gehrig, the first professional athlete to have his number retired, said, “You don’t get the breaks unless you play with the team instead of against it.” Gehrig realized that individual accomplishments are also team accomplishments. His American League record of 184 RBIs in a single season would not have occurred without having teammates on base, nor would he hold the career record for grand slam home runs seventy years after his last season. Those who achieve singular recognition within a group setting may not have done so without the support of the group. Credit should be given, and success should be shared.

Shared credit. I worked with a physician who ran for our state legislature in 2000. He could not have been elected without the efforts of his partners, who covered many afternoons, nights, and weekends for him during his election campaign. He could not have been elected without the efforts of his staff, who volunteered countless hours to the cause. His victory was a team victory. His election has brought positive recognition and market position to the practice; his legislative efforts have helped patients and medical practices. The group allowed one of its members to rise; the team continues to reap the breaks of their unselfish support of a teammate.

This is also the time of year when magazines in many cities publish their “Best Docs” editions and recognize the two or three “best” physicians in each specialty. Often, the “Best Docs” are part of groups with the best reputations. Coincidence? I think not. Group success begets individual success, for the stability and the success of the group enable the individual to shine.

Unselfishness. A successful leader is aware that every member of his team is important. Unfortunately, recognition and status can easily go to one’s head and make you look foolish and arrogant. Be careful. Standing out among your peers is not an invitation to talk down to them or to your staff. Accept your recognition gracefully, and celebrate it as a victory for your team. Individual success can be a great uniting force within a medical practice. Share your success, and share credit where appropriate.

Good gestalt. I have been part of both great teams made up of great individuals, and good teams consisting of good supporting players and one or two stars. The great teams were better because we shared a common vision, recognized the importance of each person (no matter how insignificant), and worked together. The teams built around a star or two lacked synergy and mutual respect; they never achieved similar heights.

Think about your practice. You can shine in the exam room, but to really shine, you need the help of your support team. If the records from a referring physician are missing, if your flexible sigmoidoscope was not cleaned over the weekend, or if the lab work you ordered on the patient in front of you never made it to the chart, you lose your luster pretty quickly. Individual success - be it in solo or group practice - is built on teamwork.

It is indeed paradoxical. Individual success has synergistic teamwork as a core building block. Play with your team, whether you are a star or a supporting player. If you do, each individual - and the group - will benefit.

Lucien Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE,is executive director of Neuropsychological Services of Virginia. He also consults with medical groups and health systems in areas such as compliance, physician compensation, negotiation, strategic planning, and billing/collections. He may be reached at lucien.roberts@yahoo.com.